I pushed through the tent door flap and stood. The day was foggy with a bit of chill in the August air. The beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee was spellbinding. Crows squawked in the distance, and a gentle breeze pushed its way through the tops of yellow birch trees, slowly moving the branches. A squirrel scampered across our campsite, paused and munched on his breakfast, totally oblivious to me.
I turned toward the tent. “Morgan, do you want me to leave the pistol?”
She stuck her head out. Cute. My heart rate ticked up a notch or two. I knew we belonged together.
“Nope. Won’t need it.”
I placed my old service handgun, the durable Sig Sauer P226, in my holster and headed toward the falls. The mountain was steep and the forest dense with undergrowth. I had to angle and twist my way through the straight, large birch trees. Morgan’s choice for the honeymoon was the perfect spot for me to unwind.
Special Ops missions sucked the happiness out of you. The public rarely heard about our operations. You couldn’t know that true evil existed until you saw evidence of people burned alive, were told about children beheaded for playing soccer, or women taken from their homes and never seen again. But I’d be danged if I was going to let those events dominate my life.
When I reached the spectacular falls, the power was overwhelming. The awesome roar of the churning water made me feel insignificant. I balanced against a rock on one arm, bent and cupped my hand, filled it with the pure, clean, cold water, and splashed it on my face. It took my breath.
I was mesmerized for fifteen or twenty minutes sitting next to the stream. Then a weird feeling someone was watching caused me to shudder, and my adrenalin spiked. I looked around, but saw no one.
The high pitched scream of a cougar far across the mountains rammed hot ice picks of fear into my heart. Panic spread through my body like a kindling fire. Morgan. I had to get back to Morgan.
It started to rain, and I pulled my pistol and raced up the mountain, weaving in and out of the trees. My lungs pounded, desperate for air.
I reached camp. The tent was crumpled. The salt pork smoldered in the pan. And the powdered eggs were scattered next to the fire.
My legs felt like they’d been beaten with a rubber mallet. Paralysis set in, my feet anchored in cement. I lowered the gun to my side and screamed for Morgan over and over.
But she was gone.